Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gas - Untitled (Pop #3)

Gas - "Untitled" (track 3)

Instead of trying to explain who Gas is or what Pop sounds like, I'll just post Ian Penman's original review of the album, which appeared in the June, 2000 issue of The Wire. I'd prefer to just post a link to it, but no such link exists, so instead I'm just going to quote it in its entirety.

Mille Plateaux MP83 CD

The pop of Gas: is that sound just a niggling leak or an explosion which will rip through your foundations and level your comfortable heimlich home?

Popgas: 65 minutes, no titles, no information; apparently bland cover snaps of pine, branch, leaf, light. Gaspop: one long track, in essence, with seven twists of inflection or backdrop or uplift. Is it just New Age full-body-massage Muzak, or a cunning autocritique of rainforest 'lush'? The very fact that Pop leaves us queasily posing such questions is a sign that Wolfgang Voigt's latest Gas experiment has worked. This is music in which you dreamily immerse yourself... only to find yourself cut up sharp, short, shocked.

Gas is Mike Ink is Wolfgang Voigt. Like Stefan Betke's Pole, 'Gas' has become a trademark for an ongoing investigation. Like Pole, some might say, it's a perilously repetitive project – and initially it does sound verging bland (or virgin pure); but where Pole is all microstitial flicker and scurry, here there's a massed anonymity of sound which matches the pseudonymity of name. If Pole is the sound of as yet unnamed bacterial life in underground caverns, Pop sees Voigt steer Gas into a resounding mountain Valkyrie ride. By the time the seventh and final track thunders out of your speakers, the initial noodly premise has become monumental, epic, driven, a great cathedral of sound, a great odyssey of icy soundtrack.

Pop opens slow and sinous on the soft accordion undulations of a lakeside afternoon. Having established his basic premise Voigt plays dextrous multiplication games with pattern and pulse – dense layers of sound are folded and knotted and folded again, making a maze of your initial feelings of safety. The method is duplicated by the cover where the postcard-like snaps of a golden glade are rendered uncanny through repetition and close-up. (Voigt treats the calm of Nature like Warhol treats the affectless smile of celebrity.) The feeling is like an endless series of successive colour Xeroxes laid atop one another, increasingly transparent, leaving us a final 'representation' that is blurred, unbound, off, what began as a fairly reliable 'map' becomes a progressively less clear signifier of the world, heading into epic and smoky abstraction.

What seems like a familiar sylvan plot – the comforting sound of hills-are-alive music – slowly begins to decentre itself inside repeated frames. The new picture which emerges – an unnaturally bright and resplendently 'fake' forest – carries with it an implied critique of the nostalgic itch for the Heimat. Pop begins to sound less like a conventional musical pitch than some canny installation displaying entropy in 'progress'. Voigt has taken the stele of pastoral Romanticism – of which too much electronica (with its aspirations to a glutinously 'natural' ambience) is a blithe reprint – and put his machine head to work on deconstructing its claims to be an embodiment of spiritual truth. Pop is both sublime (a flickerbook of beauty overlaid arrangements, a dark heartbeat of sussuration, chirrup and babble) and a critique of over-easy Sublime. A 'political' splinter in the embrace of warm, bosomy electronica.

In Martin Heidegger's later work, he wrote about the 'question of technology' from an isolated personal retreat, keeping the call of the Now at a distance, diving into the language like a foxhole, far from any technological clamour, living out the last vestiges of a 19th century dream of castles and rectors and metaphysics. There is a melancholia inside this imago, and that melancholy reappears here. Except the formula has been reversed, and Voigt presents us with odd, askew Polaroids of Nature from inside a tower of spotless modems. Snap goes the Ambient fallacy. Crackle goes the synthetic forest floor. Pop goes the Heideggerean dream. Pop is a luscious enjoyment in and of itself, but its lingering after-effects may make your doubt your own enjoyment.
Ian Penman

The Wire
Issue 196
June 2000
p. 48

This is copied directly from the magazine itself, which I received in the mail seven years ago and packed up for a trip to northern Wisconsin with friends that summer. Unknown to myself at the time, this turned out to be the last real vacation I'd ever take, but I did my best to made the most of it and still have many great memories from that trip. But I still found the near-constant company of my friends a little exhausting at times, and I can remember retreating back into the cabin on a few occasions when they'd take the 4-wheeler out for another tear around the gravel roads. In the meantime, I listened to Minnesota Public Radio, read some books, and browsed through The Wire, reading and rereading this review and trying to make sense of it. The comparisons between Pole (who I'd just gotten into) and Gas sounded promising. But the rest of the review seemed barely comprehensible to me, yet somehow deeply intriguing. If nothing else, it made me want to hear Pop, whatever the hell it really was. It would be some time until I'd actually do so, unfortunately.

Looking back, I should have made a better effort to obtain the album while it was still available. As Mille Plateaux has now apparently ceased operations, the album (along with all Gas material) has slipped out of print, and now trades hands for no less than three or four times its original price. As I write this, I'm only able to find two copies for sale online: one for €38.00, another for the modest sum of £99.95. As Mark Richardson reminds us in the most recent entry of his Resonant Frequency column, Gas (Wolfgang Voigt) went on to cofound Kompakt Records, which begs the question of why this album has not been reissued on the label. All that's keeping it from absorbing and eclipsing the status of albums like 94 Diskont and Endless Summer is proper availability.

That hasn't stopped countless people from downloading the album anyway, which I eventually got around to as soon as I moved into my second apartment and finally ordered the Internet service I'd always wanted. I don't remember my first impressions of it, though they likely weren't comparable to the usual reactions I have towards music, be it purchased, downloaded, heard from passing by cars or in grocery aisle checkout counters. There's a subconscious accept/reject reaction that I'm sure I regularly go through, possibly because I always longed to be some kind of critic and enjoyed passing judgment on everything I heard. More likely, just because I'm a consumer like everyone else, and find it necessary to rate and categorize all the information/texts I come in contact with in order to find my place in the world and to try to make sense of it all. I don't know. Pop somehow felt exempt from this process, as if it had more in common with environmental sounds -- the hum of office equipment, the gentle rustle of a deserted field -- than anything resembling so-called "ambient" music. But there's been never been any dearth of ambient recordings employing such sounds and specific reference points. Somehow, this was different.

I began to listen to this album more and more, night after night, coming home from work, tired and growing increasingly confused about my current life and whether the choices I'd made were perhaps not as wise as I'd first thought. I was a college graduate working at a bookstore coffee bar, struggling to pay my half of the rent every month, growing increasingly distant from my old friends while struggling to make any of my new relationships work, and... well, just general post-college anomie, I guess. Lately, I've been in a very negative mood about these things and should probably do myself and everyone else a favor and just give it all a rest. But still, I feel the need to mention it because it mirrors my fascination with this album. Is Pop really the perfect blissed-out dream I always thought it was, or is does it float and pulse and entrance us a little too much? Is that possible? Pop is not "pop" by any means, but does it not bring some of us the same kind of gleeful satisfaction? Are we not reduced to the same kind of salivating popstar fanboy/fangirl that we always despised? Does it not actually cause us to regress even further than that? Should we ever resist the lure of the drone, the creeping feeling of womb-sickness that overtakes us when we listen to Selected Ambient Works II or Ágætis Byrjun? Is Pop a continuation of that pursuit for musicians and listeners? Or is it the end?

There's some point that I'm trying to make about music and consumerism here, and maybe about the (un)importance of an artist's intent after the fact. It's all still quite unfocused in my mind and I don't know if I'm really going to be able to work it out or not. Listening to Pop lately, I'm amazed that it still sounds so good and so unparalleled more than seven years after its release. I'm amazed that it still manages to pull me in, even despite my growing apprehensions around it. I just get the feeling that there's something else running through the music that I'm still missing.

As the seasons pass, the significance of this album grows harder and harder to ignore. I just wish I could tell why.

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